Aldwych Theatre, London WC2
Opened 27 February, 2001

This musical adaptation of the Edwardian children's novel is a sentimental feelgood affair, but only for the grown-ups.

The story of Raj orphan Mary, exiled to a forbidding house in Yorkshire, restoring the garden of the title with her cousin Colin, is excellently staged by Adrian Noble for the RSC. There are fine performances, both by music-theatre stalwarts Peter Polycarpou, Linzi Hateley and the incomparable Philip Quast in adult roles and by the rosters of young newcomers (at the performance I saw, Tamsin Egerton Dick and Eddie Brown). Anthony Ward's design brilliantly captures the austerity of the house and garden in winter, though things get a bit florid for the denouement. What lets the show down is Marsha Norman's book and lyrics.

Yes, they occasionally veer towards doggerel, but that's not important. The crucial point is that Norman has stolen this children's story. In her treatment, the physical healing of young Colin takes a distinct second place to the emotional healing of Quast's uncle Archibald as he comes to terms with the loss ten years ago of his beloved wife. Three of the main characters here are ghosts, brought on to explain why the grown-ups feel as they do. This is modish personal-development sentimentality, and it has no place in such a story.

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Copyright © Ian Shuttleworth; all rights reserved.

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